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Battle for the Big Sky

Battle for the Big Sky
Representation and the Politics of Place in the Race for the US Senate

October 2014 | 280 pages | CQ Press
Battle for the Big Sky delves into one of the few competitive races of the 2012 election: the US Senate campaign in Montana. Author David C.W. Parker was granted exceptional access by both candidates over the 21 months preceding the election, allowing him to tell the story of the race in rare and fascinating detail, while also exploring the impact of Citizens United and so-called "dark money" on the campaign. The Montana setting offers readers a view into the rising political influence of the West, the importance of "place" in politics, and the impact of congressional styles and constituent relationships on campaigns and elections. Parker skillfully weaves political analysis into his narrative and places the race in the broader context of congressional elections and the research literature.

Chapter 1: What Happened in Montana Won’t Stay in Montana
Do Campaigns Matter? Montana Votes ‘Yes’

The Rise of the West

Building Constituent Connections

A Ringside Seat

Chapter 2: Montana: The Last, Best Place?
Place-Based Connections

“One of Us”

Montana: The Place

Montana and the Feds: A Love-Hate Relationship

Montana: The People


Chapter 3: Jon Tester’s Creating a Buzz
Prepolitical Careers and Representational Style

The Dirt Farmer from Big Sandy

Jon Tester Goes to Helena

Going Belly to Belly with Senator Burns


Chapter 4: Denny Rehberg: A Man in a Hurry
The Billings Rancher

Forget Me Not: Denny the Insurgent

Denny and Max

Montana’s Lone Congressman

Two Early Political Careers, Two Different Paths


Chapter 5: Representational Style: How Congressman Rehberg and Senator Tester Govern
Home Styles in the Big Sky

Washington Work

Explaining Washington Work to Constituents

Home Styles and Town Halls


Chapter 6: Campaigning in a Citizens United World: The Early Days of the Race
Priming and Framing

Farmer Jon or Barack Tester; Rancher Denny or Irresponsible Dennis?

Citizens United: More Money, Less Control

The Pledge That Wasn’t


Chapter 7: What Voters Know, How They Decide, and When Campaigns Matter
How Individuals Make Voting Decisions in Congressional Elections

Montana: Independent Voters Facing a Rich Information Environment

Representational Relationships: What Did Montanans Know and When Did They Know it?

Talking Politics: The Bozeman Focus Groups

Reinforcing an Information Advantage


Chapter 8: The Message Matters: The Politics of Personality and Issues
Do Campaigns Matter? What Political Science Says

Rehberg’s Decision

Information Advantages and Voter Learning: How Personality Trumped Issues and Resources

The Final Stretch


Chapter 9: The End Game
How the Campaign Mattered

The Democratic Brand

It’s the Economy, Stupid?

“Responsible” Decision Making: The Politics of Representational Style

Dan Cox: Spoiler?

The Democratic Ground Game

A Final Look


Chapter 10: Lessons Learned
Future Directions


Key features


  • Offers a unique, detailed and balanced case study of one of the only competitive 2012 US Senate races
  • Author David C.W. Parker’s experience and connections in Montana politics allow for exceptional access and detail
  • Addresses the importance of home style and Washington work, particularly in a state with a smaller population
  • Discusses the impact of the Citizens United decision and the phenomenon of “dark money”
  • Explains how the politics of place has consequences for representational styles

Sample Materials & Chapters

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

For instructors

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